James C. Liao (Chinese: 廖俊智) is the Parsons Foundation Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles and is the co-founder and lead scientific advisor of Easel Biotechnologies, LLC. He is best known for his work in metabolic engineering, synthetic biology, and bioenergy. Liao has been recognized for the biosynthesis and production of higher alcohols such as isobutanol from sugars, cellulose, waste protein, or carbon dioxide. He was named the president of Academia Sinica, Taiwan, in June 2016.
Education and training
Liao holds both Taiwanese and American citizenship. After receiving his bachelor's degree from National Taiwan University in 1980, Liao earned his doctor of philosophy from University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1987 under the guidance of Edwin N. Lightfoot, co-author of Transport Phenomena. He worked as a research scientist for Eastman Kodak from 1987 to 1989. In 1990, he joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University as an assistant professor and three years later he became an associate professor. In 1997, Liao became a professor for the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at University of California, Los Angeles.
Liao’s research interests include biological synthesis of fuels and chemicals, carbon and nitrogen assimilation, metabolic engineering and synthetic biology, transcriptional and metabolic networks analysis, fatty acid metabolism.
Protein based biofuels
Liao and his team are researching protein based biofuels which use proteins, rather than fats or carbohydrates, as a significant raw material for biorefining and biofuel production. The benefit of using protein is that the protein metabolism is much faster than fatty acid metabolism such as algae biofuels, which leads to higher production.
Liao's lab recently participated in the US Department of Energy's Electrofuels program. They proposed converting solar energy into liquid fuels such as isobutanol. A new bioreactor could store electricity as liquid fuel with the help of a genetically engineered microbes and carbon dioxide. The isobutanol produced would have an energy density close to gasoline.
Liao has also worked on the creation of a non-oxidative glycolysis pathway. Natural metabolic pathways degrade sugars in an oxidative way that loses 1/3 of the carbon to CO2 in fermentation. The Liao Laboratory has developed a pathway, called Non-oxidative glycolysis (NOG), that allows 100% carbon conservation in various fermentation processes.
- Elected to The World Academy of Sciences 2019
- Elected to National Academy of Sciences 2015
- Elected Academician of Academia Sinica
- Industrial Application of Science from National Academy of Sciences 2014
- Elected to National Academy of Engineering 2013
- ENI award for Renewable Energy 2013
- White House Champion of Change in Renewable Energy, 2012
- Presidential Green Chemistry Award from EPA 2010
- James E. Bailey Award, Society for Biological Engineering, 2009
- Alpha Chi Sigma Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 2009
- Marvin J. Johnson Award, Biochemical Technology Division, American Chemical Society, 2009
- Charles Thom Award, Society for Industrial Microbiology, 2008
- Merck Award for Metabolic Engineering, 2006
- FPBE Division Award of American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 2006
- Fellow, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, 2002
- National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, 1992
Liao is originally from Taiwan. He is married to Kelly Liao and has two daughters, Carol and Clara Liao.